Strawberry picking hitting record highs at farms around Virginia

Strawberry picking hitting record highs at farms around Virginia
Overlook Produce berry picking season has started. (Source: WHSV)

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — A Rockingham County produce farm is expecting an increase in strawberry-picking customers this season because it allows families plenty of space to social distance.

Joe Ulmer, owner of Overlook Produce in Mt. Crawford, said their berry season began Monday morning and within a few hours, almost all of the ripe berries were picked from the four-acre field.

He said over 200 customers picked over 2,000 pounds of berries.

Ulmer said they expect those crowds to continue through the season.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of options for activities to do during the whole quarantine, so this is just a great activity for people to come out, spend time as a family and get out in the fresh air,” Ulmer said.

Ulmer said they've changed some policies because of COVID-19.

He said they aren't allowing customers to bring their own berry picking boxes and a handwashing station will be available.

And they’re not the only ones. According to a recent statement from the Virginia Farm Bureau, pick-your-own strawberry farms around the commonwealth are having a record season.

Considered essential businesses, U-pick farms have implemented extra safety and social distancing measures. Strawberry picking, Robbie Vaughan, of Vaughan Farm’s Produce, said, is inherently a socially distant activity, as rows are already 6 feet apart. However, out of an abundance of caution, Vaughan is having customers at his farm pick every other row—doubling the distance to 12 feet.

At many pick-your-own farms, you'll find farm clerks wearing masks and gloves and required hand sanitizer stations before going into the fields. Some farms are selling berries by the container instead of by the pound, with customers pre-paying for a new bucket, which removes potentially contaminated containers from homes and removes standing in line at registers.

Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said it’s no surprise to see the tremendous turnout on strawberry farms, as many people are supporting local farms and Virginia farmers markets during the pandemic.

“Strawberry picking is a rite of spring for Virginia families, many of whom have been cooped up indoors for the past two months,” Banks said. “Pick-your-own strawberries provide an opportunity for families to participate in an outdoor activity, support local farms and enjoy fresh, healthy Virginia-grown strawberries.”

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